Monday, February 07, 2011

Quebec Prosecutors On Strike As Of Tuesday?

In Quebec, the criminal justice system is on the brink of what would essentially be a major shutdown:
"It’s bewildering, how it ever came to this. The right to strike is incompatible with our function in society," said Christian Leblanc, head of the association that represents Quebec’s 450 prosecutors. About 1,000 other provincial lawyers are part of the bargaining and may also be headed for a strike.

"But now we have to use it, and this time, it’s a fight to the finish. Either we will resolve some issues that have been outstanding for years, or we will walk. There are some senior people who won’t be coming back if we don’t fix the system."
The numbers make the case for Quebec's prosecutors. They're paid approximately 40 percent less than the national average. Quebec has the fewest prosecutors per capita of all the provinces, and the longest court delays in the country as well.

Of course, Quebec's criminal justice system is underfunded and understaffed, but it's just the most dramatic example of a trend in Canada that has steadily become more and more evident: Canadian governments are simply disinterested in spending money on criminal justice. Quebec's pending strike follows the boycott of Legal Aid undertaken by Ontario criminal defense lawyers last year and British Columbia's prosecutors suing their government in 2005 for better wages (PDF link).

Criminal defense lawyers in virtually every province have complained about legal aid rates simply being too low to conduct an effective defense, but given that prosecutors are now similarly angry about being overworked and underpaid, it appears that the oft-advanced idea of instituting a system of public defenders would likely do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.

Each time a story like this breaks, the message is the same: there's not enough access to legal service, there's not enough money being spent on the legal system, and there aren't enough lawyers willing to do this kind of work for the relatively low amount of money involved. Each story like this is just another crack in the dam. You can't mortar over those cracks forever.

- Christopher Bird, Toronto
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